There have been some entirely worthy rock ‘n’ roll novelists over the years — Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel was a pretty great read (The Death of Bunny Munro, in fairness, was less so), as were Leonard Cohen’s two novels and John Darnielle’s Black Sabbath-centric contribution to the 33 1/3 series. Kinky Friedman’s detective yarns are meant to be good fun, too. That doesn’t mean, however, that the rock ‘n’ roll novel isn’t fraught with danger — a fact demonstrated all too vividly by the arrival this week of Gray, the debut novel by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. We read the whole damn thing so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. Honestly.
Despite the monogram “A Novel” on its cover — why do people do that, by the way? — it’s probably stretching definitions to call Gray a novel, being as it’s a) ghostwritten (with help from MTV News writer James Montgomery) and b) concerned with the story of an alienated, drug-addled rock star whose life and career trajectory bears a striking resemblance to that of Pete Wentz. Wentz’s style is… well, let’s call it idiosyncratic. The book refers to its female protagonist only as “Her,” a pseudo-artistic flourish that probably reveals more about its creator’s attitude to women than he might like — as does the book’s whacking great ongoing Madonna-whore thing, wherein the virtues of Her are contrasted with the disposable groupies who the protagonist spends relatively short periods of time fucking and relatively long periods of time complaining about. The book also features a) a character called “The Disaster,” b) another character called “Animal,” and c) some of the most hilariously overblown prose you’ll find anywhere. Wentz comes off like a sort of emo Papa-Hemingway-meets-Henri-the-existentialist-cat, making liberal use of short, terse sentences and also of copious ruminations on What It All Means.
If you don’t mind us spoiling the plot, such as it is, then it goes something like this: a fictional rock star who is absolutely not Pete Wentz (but who shall henceforth be referred to as “Pete Wentz”) meets a girl called Her at Columbia. They get it on and fall in love. Then Pete Wentz’s band (who shall henceforth be referred to as “Fall Out Boy”) start doing really well. Pete Wentz drops out of Columbia to go on tour with Fall Out Boy. The girl called Her is not pleased. Drama ensues: Pete Wentz becomes convinces that the girl named Her is cheating on him, because he is a narcissistic rock star alpha male and girls are not allowed to cheat on him. He treats her like shit, but of course she forgives him and takes him back because she is the archetype of forgiving female virtue. He treats her like shit again. AMAZINGLY. Pete Wentz gets addicted to painkillers and antidepressants. The girl named Her dumps Pete Wentz. He tries to kill himself by overdosing on antidepressants. Then miraculously he gets better and gets it on with a celebrity who sounds suspiciously like Ashlee Simpson. Other stuff happens. Your correspondent has a little snooze. The book ends with a vision of the girl named Her floating above the Fall Out Boy tour bus like some sort of benevolent apparition. And, um, that’s it.
But, anyway, wait, because here’s the best stuff — the collected prose of Pete Wentz/the character who may or may not be Pete Wentz on topics that concern rock stars everywhere!
Groupie angst “Her smoke rings are wide and gray, almost big enough to climb into. Like life savers off the bow of a sinking ship. She’s trying to tempt me now, or talk, and I’m really hoping it’s the former, not the latter… I hate her. Really I do.”
Drugs “The cocaine was largely symbolic.”
Touring “The bus crawls into Dallas, but it doesn’t matter. All the skylines look the same now. It’s raining again, because rain clouds follow me wherever I go. As usual, I don’t have an umbrella. Life. I am not prepared for any of this.”
Sexistentialism “I pull the curtains closed and lie there for a while, thinking of the waitress, her hips grinding on mine. Just a little bit of pain. Camus. Her terrible father.”
Love “I’m a lifer, sweetheart, I’m here till [sic] the bitter end. I’m the floor covered in trash after the last dance, the remnants of life that was. I’m real, I’m the tangible part of the memories.”
Not love “We are a dying star in its last cosmic throes. We are a ship with its hull pierced, the arctic water pouring through the gash. It’s over.”
Wait, no, it is love “We are reunion sex. We are a freeze-dried wet dream.”
More groupie angst “We huddled in a dark corner, I made a joke, she laughed. It wasn’t funny and her laugh was annoying.”
Anatomy “I stare at myself in the mirror and realize that I am nothing more than a smile with a a heartbeat attached to it… skeletal, muscular and circulatory systems, all color-coded. Major veins and arteries. Major organs, easily removed. I am a living version of the Visible Man.”
Anatomy (questionable, this time) “Our tongues move in unison, giving pieces of ourselves to each other (imagine the possibilities of shared DNA.)”
More drugs “I fill my hands with water from the tap in the bathroom and swallow the pill. I feel the benzos enter my bloodstream, like tiny psychoactive snow flurries. I turn off the tap and shut off the bathroom light. This time I take my phone with me, but I’m not really sure why.”
Romance “The next thing I remember, I’m in the backseat of a cab, headed somewhere with some scene chick I’ve never met before. I actually come to as we’re making out, my tongue halfway down her throat, my hand halfway up her skirt… every once in a while I catch the cabdriver watching us in the rearview mirror. Part of me wants to ask him for help, but I don’t. Instead I just move my hand between her legs.”
Romantic etiquette “As far as I know, there is no manual for moments like this, when you’ve been caught smelling your girlfriend’s bedding for traces of a stranger’s semen.”
Romantic etiquette, cont’d “She lies on the bed, the robe unfurled around her like a flag. Old Glory. I stand in the doorway and want to believe that this is going to be something more than it is. Only I know it’s not. She tells me she has condoms. It is like signing a contract.”
Girls “Girls were there, poor, wide-eyed things from tiny, hopeless towns, and they just stared at us, stood there biting their lips because they didn’t know what to say or how to say it. You could tell their minds were blown. Maybe that was just the pot though.”
More girls “She’s got downtown legs that are too long for every single pair of pants that she owns. People would pay to have problems like that. She looks at my eyes, darkened around the edges, and I can tell it gets her going because she thinks I can relate to her troubles.”
Girls, girls, girls! “Under the black light in a strip club, everything takes the shape of regret sooner or later.”
Existential angst “I am useless. Weak. A boy in over his head, hiding behind tattoos and one-night stands. Trying hard to make sure nobody notices he’s drowning.”
More existential angst (channeling the spirit of Holden Caulfield!) “I begin to worry that he can see right through me, that he can tell I’m a gigantic phony, perhaps the phoniest person alive.”
Love, again “O happy, blustery Chicago days, the sky getting heavier, the leaves changing colors. O endless fall nights, the wind getting colder, the stars brighter. Everything is beautiful when you are mindlessly in love.”
Not love, again “Fuck hostage negotiations; I would’ve been romance’s last terrorists. Love’s last chance. Now, I can’t even be bothered to whip up some fake tears.”
Mental health “I think everyone should go crazy at least once in their life. I don’t think you’ve truly lived until you’ve thought about killing yourself.”
Sexual etiquette, one last time for good measure “She says something like ‘Cum in me’ or ‘Cum on me,’ barely whispered over the sound of her panting… I realize there is a pretty big difference between the two options.”